tv Democracy Now LINKTV December 5, 2012 3:00pm-4:00pm PST
in a letter to his brother, winslow homer said of his surroundings, "there is certainly some strange power "that has an overlook on me, directing my life. "that i am in the right place, there is no doubt. "i have found something interesting to work at and time to do it." for almost three decades, winslow homer made his home on prouts neck, a rocky point just south of portland, maine. his house still stands on the high ground overlooking the sea. visiting thelace where homer lived and worked is john wilmerding, deputy director of the national gallery of art. homer's studio was a remodeled stable
set about 200 yards from a large summerhouse thatis older brother bought in 1883. although homer was close to his family, he enjoyed the solitude his studio provided, but most of all, it was the ocean outside which reall made this place so important to him. the love of nature was very much a part of homer's time. his family joined the growing number of americans in the late 19th century who could afford to escape the city heat and spend summers at the shore. homer's relatives on both sides had been engaged in shipping and trading for generations. his father, charles savage homer, carried on an import business. his mother, henrietta benson homer, was a watercolorist whose flower pictures were occasionally shown in professional exhibitions.
winslow was born in boston in 1836. at the age of 21, after two years of drudgery apprenticeto a commercial lithographer, he vowed he would never have another master and set up his studio at 22 winter street, in a building with publisher m.m. ballou. true to his new england background, homer was forthright and self-reliant. above all, he valued his independence, soon establishing himself as a free-lance illustrator for ballou's pictorial. homer's first important illustration was published in 1857, and within a year, his work began to appear in harper's weekly. his early pictures recorded the ordinary manners and pleasures of american life, reflecting a mood of national self-confidence prior to the civil war.
his sketch of the skating pond in central park was published by harper's in january 1860, shortly after homer had moved to new york city. in new york, homer took a few lessons in painting from frederic rondel. rondel was a rather sentimental landscape painter who had little influence on homer's style beyond his technical instruction in the use of oils. when the civil war began, harper's commissioned the artist to depict life at the front. roving behind the lines with the potomac army, homer produced a series of closelybserved studies of camp life. homer's paintings of this period have an anecdotal or literary quality in keeping with the traditions of magazine illustration, but he also places new emphasis on pictorial design and the purely visual character of a scene-- qualities typical of the photographs
of mathew brady and others. like the photographers of the civil war, whose equipment made action scenes impossible, homer preferred static group formations, and yet the feeling of directness in recording the ordinary lends to his work a special force. prisoners from the front, with its profound sense of the resignation, exhaustion, and human cost of war, evoked the admiration of both critics and the public and brought homer his first recognition as an artist. paris, december 1866. homer arrived for an extended visit and to see prisoners from the front and another of his civil war paintings that had been selected for showing at the universal exposition. enjoying the celrity an artist
whose work was well-received, he made the trip profitle drawing parisian scenes for harper's. homer must have been intrigued by the changes underway in french art and by what he saw in the galleries. with friends, he made several excursions into the countryside near paris, where he developed an eye for the light that would soon appear in his own paintings. after 11 months, he was ready to return to america. he had gone to france as an illustrator, but he came home determined to be an artist. through his friends, homer was probably also introduced to the work of barbizon painters and other contemporary french artists, such as manet, whose work, in all likelihood, homer would have sought out while in paris. after his return from france, homer's subjects and the style of his work make clear he absorbed something from french art.
return of the gleaner is strongly reminiscent of millet's well-known paintings. the lighter palette and two-dimensional design of homer's work at this point suggest that he may have seen manet's paintings with their strong light and flat patterns. homer's oil paintings of domestic american scenes called forth his deeper creative energies, but magazine illusations of the same everyday activities provided his livelihood. the carefree quality of these scenes appealed to a country
recovering from the civil war. americans turned to lighter concerns-- exalting the innocence of childhood, the therapy of the outdoors, the benefits of leisure. throughout his life, homer made seasonal excursions, especially to the shore in summer, to seek subjects for his illustrations and to pursue his painting. at the age of 37, he was at the exact midpoint of his life. acutely aware that his youth was behind him, he was bored by the life of an illustrator, which he called a treadmill existence. in 1873, homer spent his summer in gloucter, massachusetts. there began his first serious use of watercolors.
among homer's contributions to american art, perhaps the greatest was his transformation of this medium from its limited use for colored drawings to an art form expressive in its own right. homer's gloucester scenes of children and outdoor life were a continuation of his earlier subjects. in the spring of 15, he sent 27 watercolors-- mostly from gloucester-- to the american watercolor society's annual exhibition. 10 were sold. homer's pictures both pleased and exasperated the critics. the writer henry james called them the most striking pictures in the exhibition but scoffed at the commonplace subject matter. other reviewers criticized them as unfinished sketches. soon after the exhibition closed,
homer suddenly abandoned his commercial illustrations. although encouraged by the success of his watercolors, he was annoyed by critics, who for years had referred to him as a promising young artist. he told a friend, "i'm tired of it." resuming his pattern of travel in search of new subjects, homer went to petersburg, virginia, where he painted scenes in the black community. he began with nostalgic renditions of regional american ceremony and costume. gradually, he moved away from depictions of groups, concentrating instead on one or two figures, increasily solid and sculptural in form. his single figures were studies in stillness, meditation, and introspection, including portraits of many young women
almost always seen in profile or with their eyes averted. one red-haired young woman appears repeatedly, suggesting that homer's interest in her was more than passing. he never married and never commented on this aspect of his life, but a friend recalled later that homer spoke of women in a remote tone, as of a subject matter which didn't personally interest him. during several visits to houghton farm in mountainville, new york, homer produced a flood of watercolors on pastoral themes, fashionable in late 19th-century america. he showed 23 of them at the watercolor society's 1879 exhibition. those who had complained of his sketchiness in earlier years
were won over. one critic wrote-- "never before has a collection of his works "been so beautiful in sentiment and evinced such a feeling of truth." homer returned to gloucester in 1880, after an absence of seven years. unlike his earlier visit when he lived in town, he boarded with the lighthouse keeper on ten pound island in the middle of gloucester harbor-- not only a physical separation, but a social one as well. homer began to turn inward. his need for privacy was strong. the island's freedom from intrusion was precisely what he wanted. homer's work in gloucester at this time was more spontaneous and fluid. his compositions became stronger and simpler.
in his few months of deliberate isolation on ten pound island, he experimented boldly, breaking through to a new language of light and color. when the summer was over, homer did not go on in his new mode. uncertain how to use the powerful new language he had discovered, he withdrew. boys playing around boats and girls in sunny meadows were no longer suitable subjects, yet his experience provided him with nothing to take their place. on march 15, 1881, he sailed for england. [foghorn sounds] homer painted only one picture in london--
the houses of parliament from the south bank of the thames. cities never appealed to him, and they didn't now. finding neither subjects nor an artistic environment that suited him, he left london and traveled 275 miles to the north. he settled in the small fishing village of cullercoats on the north sea and rented a studio two houses from the rescue station, overlooking the beach. here was his first encounter with the wild and elemental forces of nature. the rhythm of life in cullercoats was termined by the fishing boats, which set out at dusk and returned in the morning.
gradually, homer began to replace descriptive detail with the concentrated drama of individuals bent on the task of survival in a rugged environment. although he had intended to stay in cullercoats only for the summer, he remained almost two years. in october, he watched the life brigade rescue the crew of a wrecked ship-- the iron crown. he sketched the scene from the beach and later painted one of his largest and most ambitious watercolors. at cullercoats, homer's works took on a new monumentality. in the lives of the fisherwomen, he perceived both the gravity of the human condition
homer returned to america in november 1882, having lived 20 months in the english fishing village. homer's brothers, charles and arthur, had houses on prouts neck, and the artist spent his first summer here in 1883. from that time on, this was to be his home, intimately associated with his life and art. homer deliberately placed his own studio apart-- on the cliffs looking out to sea-- and close to the elements he had encountered in the english fishing village. images of the sea and the theme of man's struggle against the forces of nature had become homer's central concern. the life line, acclaimed as a masterpiece when it was exhibited in 1884,
echoes the cullercoats watercolors. concentrating on major forms and subordinating details, homer strengthens the taut relationship between man and the sea. the anonymous figures are raised to a heroic level. he seems to be testing in his art combinations of representation and abstraction, of the immediate and the timeless. now the pattern of homer's life was settled. when the summer crod was gone, he was alone. his nearest neighbors were a few fisherman and local farmers. prouts neck provided him with that direct contact with nature he cared for most. it was wild, elemental, least touched by man.
in the adirondack mountains of new york state, homer had hunted and fished on vacations as early as 1870. in 1886, he and his brother charles joined the north woods club, a private hunting and fishing preserve whose members came mostly from the social clubs of new york and boston the adirondacks provided the same direccontact with nature that had attracted homer to prouts neck. a rustic cabin deep in the woods was the base for his explorations of man's relationship with the wild.
on visits that cbined sport and art, homeapparentnjoyed the coan en omheit but they do not appear inisaiings. his subjects are local woodsmen, for whom the catch was food, not trophy. at a time when other artists meticulously rendered the details of outdoor life, homer was able to capture both action and atmosphere, earning him the special admiration of sporting enthusiasts. in many adirondack scenes, homer achieves his effects largely through the use of tonal washes, evoking a sense of man's harmony with nature.
scenes of serene beauty-- many of mink pond, near the artist's cabin-- contrast with other images of the woods, in which homer shows man as an intruder. deer hunting is a recurring theme-- the hunter often portrayed as a youthful adventurer accompanied on the trail by his dogs. the deer is vulnerable, even naive, unaware of the impending danger.
deer were driven from the woods by dogs. instinctively entering the water to get off the scent, the deer became an easy target for the waiting hunters. the splendor of the adirondacks gives increased poignancy to the unfolding drama. homer's water-color techniques were perfectly suited to the deeper, graver moods he wished to evoke in his adirondacks pictures. as if without effort, layers of transparent color create illusions of an explicit reality.
the artist seems drawn to the paradox of death as a source of intimacy with life. wherever he traveled, homer returned to maine-- to the prouts neck studio which was central to his life and work. the winters at prouts neck were extremely cold and desolate. although homer seemed to tolerate the bone-chilling weather-- often finding beauty in his bleak surroundings-- he began to make trips to nassau and florid during december and january. the first of these was in 1885 and later, in successive years from 1898 to 1904.
during the late 19th century, nassau had become a popular tourist resort. most visitors to the island spent their time at picturesque sites, but homer ignored the tourist life around him, concentrating instead on native activities, particularly sponge and turtle fishing. in these works, homer plays off the elements of dark-skinned fishermen, white sails, and green-blue water. working from bare, white paper to dark washes of color, he establishes vivid ranges of tonal contrasts. his brushwork is free and swift, rhythmic and expressive. certain subjects preoccupied homer for long periods.
hurricanes fascinated him. he dramatically illustrated the energy of the wind in a watercolor of 1898, and then, a year later, hauntingly portrayed the wreckage of a boat and figure washed ashore. another subject that occupied him was sharks. a watercolor of shark fishing was the basis for a pictorial narrative dealing with the ambiguous relationship between man and the forces of nature. this theme culminated in the great oil painting known as the gulf stream, seen on his easel at prouts neck. in deciding to be photographed next to this painting, homer chose to identify himself with his most memorable image of mortality. the gulf stream is surely
he was awkward, short tempered and often difficult to deal with. he never lost his strong working class accent-- people attending his lectures had little idea what he was saying. turner traveled throughout britain and europe. often on foot, carrying a paintbox, he sketched and painted lyrically beautiful landscapes that changed the face of british art. when he died in 1851, he was one of the wealthiest and most famous artists in britain's history. throughout his career, he was always well aware of the key to his success. (reader) "the only secret i have got is damned hard work." (narrator) turner's life and career began in london. by 1788, at the age of 14, j.m.w. turner was apprenticed to an architect as a draftsman.
architectural views appeared in his works throughout his life. the next year, turner entered the royal academy of arts school at somerset house. its president, the painter joshua reynolds, endorsed the prevailing view that ranked paintings in a clearly defined hierarchy. history painting was considered the noblest because it could portray events drawn from historical incidents, literature, the bible and mythology. genre painting, scenes from daily life, came next because they also offered examples of virtue to inspire the viewer. then came the more lowly categories of portraiture, landscape and still life, which were disdained as mere transcriptions of the natural world. throughout his career, turner struggled to elevate landscape painting and demonstrate that it could equal history painting
in complexity and expressive power. in 1791, turner began a routine he continued for 40 years. after the royal academy's annual exhibitions held in the early summer he traveled in search of subjects. ♪ in his first journeys to wales, the 16 year old turner was following in the footsteps of william gilpin, who launched the vogue for picturesque travel with his illustrated guidebooks. in the 1770s, landscape artists developed a picturesque style, depicting scenes of unspoiled nature. they created romanticized views of the rough countryside pleasingly arranged in quiet, harmonious compositions. the picturesque allowed turner to move beyond mere topographical images
and concentrate on atmosphere and poetic effects of light. advocates of the picturesque sought subjects that gave witness to the ravages of time and neglect. the wye valley was a favorite destination. tintern abbey's romantic associations were impeccable-- a remnant of england's medieval splendor, its nearby woods and hillsides celebrated in poetry by william wordsworth. (reader) "once again do i behold these steep and lofty cliffs-- that on a wild secluded scene impress-- thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect-- the landscape with the quiet of the sky." (narrator) turner adopted the picturesque approach but focused on the abbey itself. his precocious virtuosity as a watercolorist was beginning to emerge. wales provided him with many picturesque subjects.
the interior of the abandoned norman priory at ewenny with its pools of shadow, broken by raking light reminded one critic of rembrandt. by the mid 1790s, turner had taken up oil painting. he learned by looking at 17th century dutch marine paintings and especially the idealized landscapes by two french artists who worked in italy-- nicholas poussin and claude lorraine. turner followed claude's example by ennobling landscapes with historical or mythological figures. he made frequent visits to wales. as he moved further into the mountains, he found subjects that were central to one of the most powerful elements in late 18th century british aesthetic thought-- the sublime. ♪ the idea of the sublime, embodied by the overpowering
majesty of nature's grandeur, was an idea popularized by the philosopher edmund burke. for burke, contemplating that grandeur-- either directly or in paintings-- overwhelmed viewers with feelings of fear, awe and exaltation. it also had a moral element, emphasizing man's insignificance and humility in the face of the terrifying forces of nature. the fascination with the sublime was an international phenomenon that intrigued many artists of the time-- inspiring philippe jacques de loutherbourg's terrifying alpine avalanche... joseph wright's spectacular vesuvius... and caspar david friedrich's transcendent image of a wanderer contemplating the infinite. turner's interest in the sublime led him to travel to switzerland in search of wild landscapes that were thrillingly vast, and remote.
he turned edmund burke's vision in any direction he chose. he imbued biblical subjects lie the fifth plague of egypt with the awesome power of nature's destructive forces. the swirling mists of the alpine blizzard that the carthaginian general hannibal and his army encountered while crossing into italy merged the sublime with the vaunted genre of history painting. turner was always attentive to his career. he had opened a gallery of his own where he could show his works-- and keep the sales commissions. the 31 year-old painter was appointed professor of perspective at the royal academy. he used that pulpit to promote the possibilities of landscape painting as equal to history painting, urging his students by saying--
(reader) "to select combine and concentrate that which is beautiful in nature and admirable in art is as much the business of the landscape painter in his line as in the other departments of art." (narrator) turner lived through one of the most patriotic periods in british history. the french revolution descended into violence. louis xvi's execution in 1793 shocked and appalled the british. the imperial ambitions of napoleon that followed the failure to establish a republic kept britain at war with france and its allies for 22 years. napoleon led the french armies across europe in victory after victory, heightening the british fear of invasion. that fear lessened in 1805 when the british navy under admiral horatio nelson destroyed the combined french and spanish fleet at trafalgar off the coast of spain. that triumph was marred by nelson's death
from a sniper's bullet. the nation both celebrated his victory and mourned his death for years. nelson's column, built in trafalgar square, commemorated his sacrifice in stone and bronze. turner painted a highly original re-creation of the decisive moment that claimed lord nelson's life, setting it amid the crushing congestion of towering masts, torn sails and the fog of cannon fire at precariously close quarters. the reviews were good. (reader) "mr. turner... has detailed the death of his hero, while he has suggested the whole of a great naval victory, which we believe has never before been successfully accomplished, if it has been before attempted, in a single picture." (narrator) the napoleonic war ended in 1815 at waterloo.
the duke of wellington had called the battle "a damn close run-thing." the fragility of civilization intrigued turner throughout his career. the decline of the carthaginian empire depicts the crushing penalty rome inflicted on the carthaginians. the architecture is elegant but the messy dockside suggests the end of a defeated imperial power. the women of vanquished carthage are bidding farewell to their men as they sail towards rome, human spoils of war bound for slavery or death. in 1818, turner was 43. in the twenty years that britain had been at war, he had become a public figure, his reputation based on art and enterprise. the new classes made wealthy by the industrial revolution were eager to buy his works. and he was favored with patronage from landed gentry like walter fawkes,
who invited him to stay at his yorkshire estate. one morning at breakfast fawkes asked him to make a drawing that would convey the huge size of a man-of-war. fawkes' grand niece recorded how it was done. (reader) "he began by pouring wet paint onto the paper till it was saturated, he tore, he scratched, he scrubbed at it in a kind of frenzy and the whole thing was chaos-- but gradually and as if by magic the lovely ship, with all its exquisite minutia, came into being and by lunchtime the drawing was taken down in triumph." (narrator) with europe at peace, turner was free to travel abroad-- sketching what he saw in notebooks and taking them back to london to use as a basis for his paintings. in 1819 he finally reached italy, the goal of artists throughout europe
eager to learn from its history and beauty. it was turner's long held dream to visit the country he knew from claude's paintings. he depicted an idealized italian landscape and called it childe harold's pilgrimage, after lord byron's poem. in an attempt to lift the painting to the intellectual stature enjoyed by the romantic poets, turner included a fragment of byron's verse in the exhibition catalogue. (reader) "...and now, fair italy! thou art the garden of the world. even in thy desert what is like to thee? thy very weeds are beautiful, thy waste more rich than other climes' fertility: thy wreck a glory, and thy ruin graced with an immaculate charm which cannot be defaced." (narrator) turner's travels in italy, like so many of his contemporaries,
were part of a phenomenon called the grand tour. the artistic and architectural legacies of ancient rome and greece were thought to ennoble the minds that contemplated them. turner recorded their beauty-- the vestiges of power in ruin, history frozen in atmospheric splendor, a lost paradise still tinged by myth. he could capture that beauty like no one else which earned the praise of his friend the painter thomas lawrence. (reader) "the subtle harmony of this atmosphere, that wraps everything in its own milky sweetness... can only be rendered, according to my belief, by the beauty of his tones." (narrator) turner first saw the seductive beauty of venice in paintings by the 18th century venetian artist canaletto, a favorite of itish collectors. turner's venice from the porch of madonna della salute was designed to appeal to that market.
juliet and her nurse, on the other hand, was a breathtaking work of fiction. turner transported shakespeare's characters from verona-- and set them in the lower right-hand corner of a composition that vibrated with the decadent revels of venice at carnival time. rendered in luminous tones, figures and fireworks dissolve in the gossamer atmosphere. critics were mystified. (reader) "different parts of venice, thrown higgledy-piggledy together, streaked blue and pink and thrown into a flour tub. poor juliet has been steeped in treacle to make her look sweet, and we feel apprehensive lest the mealy architecture should stick to her petticoat, and flour it... so many absurdities we scarcely stop to ask why julietnd her nurse should be in venice." (narrator) the young john ruskin, who would become england's greatest art critic, disagreed and wrote a passionate defense.
(ruskin) "many-colored mists are floating above the distant city, but such mists as you might imagine to be ethereal spirit in this picture ought to be viewed as embodied enchantment, delineated magic." (narrator) at home in england, turner continued to enjoy the patronage of the aristocracy. at petworth house in sussex, lord egremont, a curious mixture of rake and intellectual, opened his collection of sculpture and paintings to visiting artists who could come and go as they pleased. he provided turner with a studio. lord egremont commissioned several paintings from turner, including petworth lake. a study for a larger painting, it reveals how turner's use of oils gained from the experimental work he was undertaking
in watercolors during the 1820s. turner planned images by laying down broad areas of primary color to denote forms he sought to represent. his persistent use of yellow caught the reviewers' eyes. one hostile critic suggested that he suffered from yellow fever. another compared him to a cook with a mania for curry powder. the novel selection of yellow pigments that became available in the 1820s allowed him to create more subtle gradations of light which he put to use in ulysses deriding polyphemus. the taunting of the blind cyclops by mortal ulysses- bathed in the light of apollo's sun-chariot-- was read as an allegory: the triumph of light over ignorance. the sun and the power of light were among turner's most enduring preoccupations, but critics accused him of being "intoxicated with color." (reader) "although the grecian hero
has just put out the eye of the furious cyclops that is really no reason why mr. turner should put out the eyes of us harmless critics." ♪ (narrator) at the beginning of the 1830s, turner was famous, at the height of his powers and intent on dominating his rivals. the royal academy's annual exhibition traditionally included "varnishing days"-- an opportunity for artists to apply the finishing touches to their works as they hung in the academy before the official opening. turner treated this as an almost theatrical opportunity, reworking canvasses like regulus he'd painted years before under the noses of his competitors. (reader) "he had a large palette, nothing on it but a huge lump of flake white; he had two or three biggish tools to work with, and with these he was driving the white into all the hollows,
and every part of the surface... the picture gradually became wonderfulleffective, just the effect of brilliant sunshine absorbing everything and throwing a misty haze over every object." (narrator) that aggressively painted sun was part of the story. regulus was a roman general captured and tortured by the carthaginians. they cut off his eyelids and forced him to look at the blinding midday sun. in the 1830s, britain's confidence gave way to misgivings about empire, industrialization and inequality. as always, turner considered contemporary events to be fitting subjects. he kept his politics a secret but his distaste for slavery was addressed in slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying-- calling attention to the horrific practice of slave ships lightening the load of their human cargo
in the face of a typhoon. ♪ (narrator) the burning of the houses of parliament in 1834 gave turner one of his great subjects-- the destruction of a national symbol of unity and the horrors and agonies that accompanied it was the stuff of tabloids. turner made it the stuff of drama. sequences of watercolors show he viewed the catastrophe from a variety of locations-- liquid splotches of red, grey, and blue fight dramatically with each other. this contest between hot and cold colors would explode violently in the oil paintings he exhibited. his 1835 version is viewed from the south bank of the thames amid an immense crowd of spectators
who have gathered to watch their seat of government consumed by a wall of flames. that combination of observation tempered with passionate artistry flowered again in turner's 1839 the fighting "temeraire" tugged to her last berth to be broken up, many wept to see the temeraire, a ship that had stood with nelson at the battle of trafalgar, at the mercy of a steam driven tug dragging it to the scrap yard. turner would never lend or sell the picture, which he called "my darling." turner may have regretted the passing of that era but he was fascinated by the steam age. keelmen heaving in coals by moonlight was painted for an industrialist. but it can also be seen as an elegy for the honest and hard working labor that fed the engines of the steam-driven empire. it was praised for its extraordinary light-- described by one observer as "neither night nor day."
throughout the 1830s and into the 1840s, turner produced works with expressive brushwork and an indistinctness that baffled critics. (reader) "to speak of these works as pictures, would be an abuse of language." (narrator) snow storm - steamboat off a harbor's mouth, evokes the furious force of nature through waves and sprays that swirl around the storm-tossed ship, creating a powerful vortex, a compositional device that turner had devised years earlier. the painting was dismissed as "soapsuds and white wash." turner's behavior didn't help-- the artist, now in his 60s, preposterously claimed to have had himself tied to the mast for four hours in freezing weather to observe and sketch the effects. increasingly scruffy and eccentric,
he moved into a house in chelsea with a widow named sophia booth. courting anonymity, he was known to the locals as admiral booth. turner's response to criticism of the blurriness of his late works was to say that "atmosphere is my style." the novelist william makepeace thackeray noted that in rain, steam and speed, turner's epic depiction of the modern railway-- (reader) "he has made a picture with real rain, behind which is real sunshine, and you expect a rainbow every minute... all these wonders are performed with means not less wonderful than the effects are. the rain... is composed of dabs of dirty putty slapped on to the canvas with a trowel; the sunshine scintillates out of very thick, smeary lumps of chrome yellow." (narrator) john ruskin, the passionate boy defender of juliet and her nurse, was now a young man and convinced that turner was the great english painter.
he bought turner's paintings-- including slavers-- and wrote essays in praise of them. (ruskin) "the noblest sea that turner ever painted... the fire of sunset falls along the trough of the sea, dying it with an awful but glorious light, the intense and lurid splendor which burns like gold and bathes like blood." (narrator) in 1843 ruskin began to publish modern painters, which argued for turner's inclusion among the ranks of the greatest artists in history. turner continued to travel compulsively until the late 1840s when his health no longer allowed it. a series of watercolors came out of a trip to switzerland in 1841 that represent his supreme achievement in the medium that launched his career. they're marked by explosions of color and a poetic haziness that obscures topographical detail.
these large works, which turner charged hefty prices for, proclaimed the visual impact of watercolor as the equal of oils. but venice captured his imagination more than any other place in his last decade. in 1844 he painted approach to venice. the picture is only incidentally about the boating party making their way into the city. turner's interest is in suffusing water and sky with color at twilight and capturing its effect on the distant city's skyline. ruskin was spellbound by its beauty. (ruskin) "it was, i think, when i first saw it... the most perfectly beautiful piece of color of all that i have seen produced by human hands." (narrator) shade and darkness - evening of the deluge, painted in 1843, is more about light
than a biblical account of noah and the ark. turner's light produces a mystical bent that shows up in several late canvases. layer after layer of pigment, applied to create the vortex of mist and air churning angrily around the blinding light, conjures up the elemental forces of the cosmos. the abstract beauty of turner's late canvases that dissolve into light are especially apparent in some of his unfinished paintings like norham castle, sunrise. returning to a subject he had painted years earlier, he advanced his composition to a point at which the subject is barely apparent. its unfinished state shows how he could stretch the poetic possibilities of color and technique to the threshold of abstraction. even as turner developed his watercolor technique
to the level of his oil paintings, he pushed oil painting to the point of watercolor's expressive fluidity, with pigments applied freely and colors that seem to bleed one into the other. turner died at his home in chelsea in december of 1851. he lay in state in his central london gallery and was buried, at his request, beside the grave of joshua reynolds in st paul's cathedral. he left a fortune equivalent to eight million dollars to friends, relatives and charities, leaving many of his paintings to the nation. the impact of turner's painting on later artists began well before his death. staffa, fingal's cave became the first of his paintings to arrive in america. there are more of his works in the u.s. than anywhere but britain. he influenced american painters such as frederic edwin church...
and thomas moran, who became known as "the american turner." french painters, including claude monet, were also intrigued by him. monet saw an exhibition of turner's works in london in the early 1870s and noted with approval that the english artist "painted with his eyes open." the impressionists admired his ability to capture luminous atmospheric effects. by the end of the 19th century, j.m.w. turner's dream was realized-- landscape painting was elevated to a level unthinkable without the contributions he had made in fifty years of painting.